I have been fortunate to coach a cross section of athletes in the few seasons I have been a coach. When working with Recreational and competitive cyclists, runners and multisport athletes I have witnessed a pattern of behaviors that has lead me to change how I coach from time to time. I have been pondering why these behaviors and actions occur. Sometimes its just human nature, sometimes it’s a gap in knowledge or miscommunications. So rather than letting it take up an more free space in my head I thought I would share with my readers how you can get more from your own coaching experience.
To everyone I coach that reads this post, it’s not about you. I promise! This post is about a cumulative experience. So here are some lessons learned.
Lesson 1: Log your data
I can’t stress this enough with athletes. LOG YOUR DATA! If you do not capture your performances while training and racing how are you going to know if you are improving. Without this data we coaches can’t help you understand if you are improving, backsliding or getting dangerously close to over training. Do you find that your bike computer or running/swimming GPS is too cumbersome to upload data? Then get a new one that makes it easier to upload the data. Life is to short for headaches. Spend the money and get a GREAT Bike Computer and or running/swimming GPS.
Lesson 2: Know your communications schedule
Do you know when or how often to communicate with your coach? Email your coach if you are not sure. Ask! Don’t assume that your coach is going to auto magically call you. Unless your service says that’s what you are paying for. I know that this sounds like a harsh criticism but I want to emphasize that to get the most from your coaching experience you need to regularly communicate with your coach. Make sure you also know which methods of communication are acceptable with your coach. Depending on the coaching service you have purchased you may only have email access or only one call a month available to you. Don’t leave these opportunities on the table; use them you paid for them!
Lesson 3: Do the work but don’t over do it
It is rare indeed that I run into an athlete that is afraid to do the work. However I frequently remind athletes to take it easy. Sneaking in extra rides, runs, adding 10, 20 or 60 minutes to a work out is not uncommon. Endurance athletes that hire a coach are often Type A personalities that LOVE to work hard and love to be praised when they do so. This is one of the primary reasons I love being a coach. Who wouldn’t want to surround themselves with people who are not afraid to work hard and be excited to do so? I have a saying that had helped me in my career, as an athlete and as a coach. Plan the work and work the plan. Remember while you may feel up to training harder and longer your coach could surprise you the next week with some seriously hard training. Will you be recovered and ready to give it your all or to worn out from over doing it the week before?
Lesson 4: Be realistic
I have an amazing roster of athletes this season and feel very fortunate to have them. Athletes will get discouraged from time to time; they just need to remember this will pass. Set backs from overreaching, illness, injury or not meeting goals are opportunities in disguise. Take the time and recognize the problems for what they are and talk your coach about how you can mitigate the risk of it happening again. Notice how I used the word mitigate? Good coaches do not talk in absolutes unless they are talking about performance data.
Lesson 5: Trust your instincts/feelings
Learn to listen to that inner voice and don’t be afraid to disagree with your coach. Just make sure your coach understands the disagreement and that you take the time to listen to your coaches input on the matter.
Lesson 6: Data is important but so is the subjective
Coaches LOVE data. We love to look over performance numbers, race results and telemetry. When we have it! However subjective outcomes can be even more important than raw data. Don’t just upload your data to a training log and think there I am done. Instead take a minute and write a simple note to your coach in the log about the work out. If it’s a race that you were really happy with or disappointed in write a race report. Things like how you felt, aha moments, areas of a race that felt sketchy, times where you felt strong and moments you felt weak. This subjective input can mean the difference between a successful outcome and a failure.
Lesson 7: Do not be afraid to ask
I am sure most of us growing up have heard the statement from a parent or teacher, “Don’t be afraid to ask questions” and “there are no stupid questions.” It holds true for coaches and athletes too. The only time a coach will generally get upset is if an athlete is not communicating or when asking a simple question could have staved off performance problems or if the athlete has asked the same question 5 different ways expecting a different answer. Some of the best discussions I have had in my adult life stemmed from a question that starts like this: I feel silly asking this question but. Ask away folks!
Lesson 8: Become a partner
Coaches come in various levels of experience and of course cost. However the one equalizing theme from all successful coaches is that their relationship with their athletes is that of a partner. We as coaches and athletes are in it together. The wins, the losses, illnesses, injuries and successes are ours to celebrate or to solve.
Lesson 9: Become a student
Lastly many athletes hire a coach because they do not want to learn what a coach knows and that is perfectly acceptable reason for hiring a coach. However the athlete still needs to become a student of the sport. Coaches are expected and required to stay up on many aspects of athletic performance. As an athlete you need to remember that your coach isn’t always with you in the middle of the race or the last set of workout. Becoming a student of your sport will also help you to better communicate what you need from your coach. Think of it as learning a new language. The more you immerse yourself into a culture the easier it becomes to pick up its languages, traditions and attitudes.
Lesson 10: Don’t give up on your self
I talk with lots of self coached athletes and I see a common concern with their training and outlook. Just because your not fast right now doesn’t mean you wont be in the future. It takes quite a bit of time to develop lasting physical adaptations. There is NO ONE workout that you can do once or twice a week that will fix any particular problem you are having in just a few weeks. If you are self coached and following a structured plan for the first time. Stick with it and see it through you will be happy you did.
I want to reiterate to all of my past and present athletes that this article was NOT meant to single out a behavior or action of any of you. This article instead is meant to show some of the common pitfalls to negotiate as an athlete that is working with a coach.
I hope you enjoyed the article. As always if you have something to contribute to the article or have a question feel free to leave a comment.
Until next time Train Smarter Not Harder